When families inquire about our programs, the questions vary but most of the time, they all point to the following: “Will your staff be able to keep my child(ren) safe and will their needs be met”?
These questions are understandable given the fact that their children might have medical needs such as a seizure disorder, use a feeding tube or have a trach. In addition, their children might have some behavioral challenges such as lashing out at others or themselves when anxious, have a short attention span or they might run away with no warning. Since we first began, we have never turned away a child due to having a more challenging disability; all children regardless of disability are accepted into our programs.
Our staff orientation training sessions are critical to all of our programs. Discussing various behavioral interventions and how they can be implemented provides the tools for our staff when working with children of all ages and abilities. In addition, reviewing each child’s diagnosis and informational sheet provides the staff with the child’s likes and dislikes as well as what might set off the child and what might calm the child down. Fears need to be known by our staff, in order to be proactive with our programs. If a child is fearful of dogs, it is beneficial for our staff to be aware of this when the therapy dogs visit camp. Preparing ahead of time creates a situation that can best meet this child’s needs.
As part of our staff orientation sessions, all of the staff participate in sensory sensitive awareness activities. Simulated exercises allow for our staff to better understand some of the disabilities that our campers face such as the following: darkened glasses with only a small poked hole on the lenses for a person to see through, and then ask the individual to either pick up an item on the floor or walk to a designated point and return (for vision challenges), or wear extra-large painter gloves and ask the individual to pick up a penny from the floor (for fine motor difficulties), or place marbles in a staff member’s shoes and ask him to walk to a specific area and return (difficulty walking), or ask a staff member to communicate with someone without using verbal communication. Discussion occurs following the exercises in small groups, including exploring how they felt during the activity and what was helpful or not helpful from the rest of the group as they did each task.
Training also includes learning how to change a diaper, as a good number of our campers are not toilet trained, regardless of age. Staff also need to know how to transfer a camper safely from a wheelchair to a bean bag chair, a changing mat or a changing table. Learning how to take off and put on leg braces is also reviewed.
All of these areas need to be discussed and understood by our staff prior to the first day of any of our programs. While buddies (volunteers ages 14-17) are not involved with toileting, behavior management, removing braces nor transferring, buddies are still required to attend these sessions as they too need to understand each child’s diagnoses, likes, dislikes and fears. In this way, all staff who are involved with any of our programs, including buddies, experience the same training and gain a better, more thorough understanding of our campers, their needs and our focus and culture.
When orientation is complete, the fun can begin for all campers and staff!